While the hop plant (Humulus lupulus) has its origins in northern Europe, the SAB Hop Farms (SABHF) have been breeding them in South Africa for over 80 years. We have successfully cultivated several local varieties which are better suited to the local climate.
Hops are one of the key ingredients in beer, bringing aroma and flavour characteristics as well as preservative qualities. Hops contain alpha acids, which give beer its bitter taste. While the female plant is used in brewing the male plant is used in breeding programs.
Why breed hops in South Africa?
1. They’re better suited to our climate
By developing our own cultivars, we’re able to breed specific varieties suited to our climate. These can best handle our local conditions, producing optimal yields with our preferred flavour and aroma profiles.
2. Diseases don’t generally spread internationally
Although it’s a competitive industry, South African and international hop breeders participate in a mutually beneficial collaboration. Our location and disease-free status attracts international interest.
3. Staggered growing seasons
The difference in local and international harvest times also holds benefits for the international community. It allows for each to assist during their respective growing seasons to help shorten the breeding process.
4. Strengthening the gene pool
The SA hops breeding programme draws on the international hops gene pool, crossing disease-resistant varieties with locally adapted breeding stock.
Meet some locals
This is the hop that started it all. It was developed in the 1970s and was found to be ideally suited to the local climate. With Southern Brewer, commercial hop growing could begin in South Africa.
In the 1980s and 1990s three more commercial varieties were added. These are known as the SABHF Power Hop varieties:
This internationally renowned hop is primarily used for bittering.
This breed was one of a new generation that could grow in SA in the low daylight hours without needing artificial light. It’s a dual purpose hop, used for both bittering and aroma and tends toward a more woody, earthy fragrance.
Southern Dawn is another dual purpose hop. It displays many similarities to Southern Promise, but is more aromatic.
In addition to the Power Hop varieties, the SABHF breeding programme has produced two specific aroma and flavour varieties used by micro and craft brewers:
This aromatic hop has a floral and herbal nose, with a flavour profile reminiscent of sunny hayfields, field flowers and dried herbs.
This is the most flavoured of all varieties, with passion fruit, red berries and sweet fruits being some of the predominant flavours. It does have some of the same qualities as the noble hops from which it was developed but is a little more earthy and spicy with pronounced grassy notes.
J17, our African Queen
SABHF’s most recent unveiling is the J17 hop, our African Queen, recently launched in May 2015. Released after only 12 years of development [link to ] the hop has been used by a number of micro-brewers in South Africa.
This unique hop’s profile is a balance between a fruity taste and traditional bitterness, with a tropical and citrus aroma. This is especially exciting as it opens doors to using local hops in brewing big bodied beers like pale ales.
Establishing South African hops on the international stage
Despite their geographical isolation our teams at SAB Hop Farms, through their innovation and perseverance, have achieved remarkable results. With achievements like this and growing collaborations with the international community, South African hops breeders are on an exciting trajectory. Watch this space for more!